Xavier Jared

TwoShay

Two brothers on personal development, philosophy, and being awesome

Books Books Books

Xavier,

Reading is great. I really dig it. Since I started my habits calendar last November, it is the one habit that has been on there every single month. In the past year, I have read forty books. I know this because I track them with Goodreads. I also leave a short review and rating, which I frequently use to recommend reading, and have used for this post. I wanted to share the cream of the crop, books that have quite literally changed my life by exposing me to new ideas, new thoughts, and new ways of being.

Reading is great

It is hard to unilaterally recommend a book. The value of a book is not what is written in it, but what it makes me think. This is highly dependent on my state of mind, so certain books (such as Atlas Shrugged) hit me just at the right time, and in other circumstances may have been a much less enjoyable read. As my latest book offered: “The words are only fingers pointing at the moon. They are not the moon itself.” Still, I can only report on my own experiences, so with that in mind, onwards to The Twelve Books That Changed My Life In The Last Year.

(Jared is still trying to make a dollar off the internet, so here is an affiliate link to The Book Depository that nets him 5% of anything you buy if you take me up on any of my recommendations. I purchase most of my books from there: good range, cheap prices, and free delivery worldwide.)

The List

Here we go, in ascending order of the date I finished reading.

Walden by Henry Thoreau

Pretty sure they didn’t have editors in the 1800s. There is some gold in these pages—his criticism of modern life, technology, economy, and wasteful culture are timeless—interspersed with incredibly droll accountings of Walden pond. Walden is a great read, so long as you speed through the boring chapters.

The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy by Raj Patel

I am a big fan of Patel’s clear writing style and thinking, having being introduced to him through Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System (how can you not love those subtitles). This is the last book I read before I quit my job, the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. It challenged a number of free market ideas I had taken for granted such as property ownership and international trade, and provided numerous examples of communities around the world that are succeeding with different economic and political models.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Chris McDougall

This is a rip-roarer of a book, one of the most engaging stories I have read, and I believe would be even if you have never run a step in your life. Born to Run was a major force advocating the barefoot running movement, but for me it simply got me excited about running again—not about running fast, or running hard, just plain running.

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin Seligman

I consider myself an optimist and didn’t think I’d get much out of this book. Incorrect! While a lot of it was revision, it had a wealth of good techniques and codified a lot of things I only knew vaguely and instinctively. It also contained some amazing research that has gone into explanatory style, with the way people explain things to themselves causing large swings in results of everything from academic tests to sporting games.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

You cannot read this book and have it not affect your life, if for no other reason that it weighs in at over 1000 pages! A serious tome. It took me almost three months to read. This book is in many ways the opposite to “The Value of Nothing” above, but I enjoyed the thorough presentation of Rand’s objectivist philosophy—there are many takeaways even when you don’t agree with the entire corpus. It wasn’t all roses: I thoroughly hated Rand’s writing style by the end of the book, and the love plots were weirdly disconnected from the main philosophy. Overall though I am glad I read this book.

Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens

I finished it and went straight back to page one to read it again. Excellently written, very inspiring, and I added a lot to my reading list from his name dropping.

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

I got so excited about typography after reading this that I went out and wrote a book (The Ultimate Dominion Strategy Guide) just so I could typeset it. Bringhurst writes with a confident arrogance and wit that is a delight to read. Of the unspaced em-dashes we us on this blog: “[they] belong to the padded and corseted aesthetic of Victorian typography.” Sorry, Robert.

The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley

From my notes: “Excellent book, made me smarter.” Some really counter-intuitive research in this book, most contrary including a demolishing of the myth that indigenous peoples generally look after the environment, and that the nationalization of land creates a tradgedy of the commons more often than it alleviates one.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

We are going to do a quick skill on pronouncing this guy’s name. I put off reading this book because I thought I knew the gist of it. I did, but it is the details that you want: the types of flow states, how excess flow can be destructive,what kinds of flow create lasting happiness. In addition, it gave me a new understanding of the happiness people find in activities I cannot even comprehend enjoying, such as raising a family and sporting fan-dom.

Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? by Gary L. Francione

An excellent and clear exposition of the basic abolitionist argument: that although we practically universally agree that animals should be treated humanely, as long as they are owned as property the humane treatment principle will never be respected. Having read much of Peter Singer’s writing, I particularly appreciated the direct comparison to his philosophy in the middle of the book.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Tim Ferriss

Jared wrote a review of this, go and read it because I agree with him.

The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Epstein

A friend once described reading a good book as “marinating in someone else’s brain for a while”. That is the best description I have of this book. The essential premise is that humanity’s obsession with technology and progress will inevitably lead to a collapse, and we will need new modes of operation to rebuild. Many challenging thoughts, though a large part of it could be cut; I tend not to enjoy philosophers interpreting or writing about science.

Honorable Mentions

There was not a lot of fiction in that list, clearly I don’t read as much of it. Here are three other excellent books I read over the past twelve months.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

I enjoyed that the relationships in this book didn’t feel stereotypical, and everyone had a different perspective. Kundera knew how to turn a phrase, too. I realise now that I borrowed this from Sarah and it is still in my bookshelf, so uhm … sorry about that if you are reading. I rode my bike over one night and punctured a tyre, so had to catch the train home and wanted some reading material: this was the only book in her bookshelf I felt I could stomach. Turned out to be a winner.

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

A beautiful book about the many dreams and conceptions of time Einstein must have had creating his theory of relativity. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over. In another, there is a place where time stands still, visited by lovers and parents clinging to their children. It is a quick read, took me barely two hours, so you have no excuse not to read it.

Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street by Michael Lewis

I suppose I am cheating, this isn’t really fiction, but it may as well be. Great story, well told, and a nice introductory overview of the finance market to boot. I’m looking forward to reading another of Lewis’s books in the same vein: The Big Short.

That gives you a fairly comprehensive picture of the type of literature I read. You can see the full list of forty (plus more from history!) over at Goodreads. Now it is your turn: what books should I add to my list? Send me an email or hit me up on Twitter.

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